Kenneth Aggerholm1, Dean Barker2,
Håkan Larsson3 & Øyvind Førland Standal4
1 Norwegian School of Sport Sciences; 2 Örebro University;
3 The Swedish School of Sport and Health Sciences; 4 Oslo Metropolitan University
Since March 2020, most physical education (PE) teachers in Scandinavia have faced the challenges of remote teaching. Homeschooling has perhaps been particularly challenging for PE teachers compared to other teachers, given the essential role of bodily contact, interaction, social negotiations, game playing and shared expressions in PE (Varea and González-Calvo, 2020).
Having worked with covid conditions for a year now, we trust that teachers have worked out various solutions that, we hope, are relevant and meaningful for the students. At the same time, both from our personal experiences and early research findings (Mercier et al. 2021), it appears that PE teachers have largely provided students with physical activity and fitness training during the pandemic.
In this short text, we want to share an idea for a concrete alternative to fitness exercises, which, although important, is only one part of the PE curriculum. It springs from a pedagogical model we outlined in a double article from 2018, which focuses on practising. Practising, which in German is üben and in the Scandinavian languages øve/öva, is, briefly put, a form of activity in which you seek to improve some part of yourself through repeated efforts.
Recently, one of our colleagues, Dillon Landi, made us aware that this practising model is particularly relevant for teaching during the pandemic. While we did not have remote teaching in mind when we outlined the model, we realise now that it could be a relevant way of coping with the current situation. It can, we believe, guide how teachers can facilitate movement activities for students at home that are both meaningful and educationally relevant.
In the following, we will describe what remote teaching with a focus on practising might look like. We hope it can inspire teaching methods that add to the list of pedagogical options available for teachers during the pandemic.
Background: What is the practising model?
To provide some background, we briefly revisit the most central characteristics of practising in the pedagogical model. While some forms of practising involve close relations to other individuals, such as the practising that takes place in apprenticeship learning, other forms can be carried out working with (and on) oneself. We focus on the latter to describe how practising can be a relevant way of making a virtue out of the inescapable COVID-19 solitude.
Practising is, as mentioned, a form of activity in which you seek to improve some part of yourself through repeated efforts. It involves agency in that the practising person is to some extent aware that s/he is actively pursuing some kind of personal transformation. Practising also describes a process related to a particular content (practising of something) and oriented at a goal (practising towards something), for example, a particular way of moving. Practising also involves an expected or desired improvement, which can be described as an element of verticality. Trying to improve involves both effort and repetition, which is a meaningful element in effecting personal change and, hence, not an aspect of the experience that should be reduced or removed. Finally, uncertainty is a fundamental element of practising because it concerns engaging with something that you are not yet capable of.
To have students engaged in this form of activity, we suggested that teachers adopt a pedagogical focus on (1) acknowledging subjectivity and providing meaningful challenges, (2) focusing on content and aims of practising, (3) specifying and negotiating standards of excellence, and (4) providing adequate time for practising.
Case: How can practising be part of your teaching in PE?
We want to provide an activity-based outline of how the pedagogical model could look in PE lessons. We have had grade nine students (aged 15–16) and our Swedish and Norwegian curricula in mind when designing these activities. We focus on movement capability, which is a common theme across many PE curricula. However, our suggestion for educational practices should be considered in light of local policy.
Activity one: Movement histories
In this activity, students consider the different ways in which they can already move. The activity aims to help students appreciate: (1) their own movement capabilities; (2) the experiences that have led them to develop these capabilities; and (3) how/why certain movement capabilities are valued in particular contexts. To implement Activity one, teachers should provide discussion cues (see below). Teachers should also decide whether students will complete the activity verbally, textually, or in an alternative format. Choice of format is related to whether the activity will be an introduction-type activity or a more comprehensive activity used as part of formative assessment. Teachers could initiate Activity one with the following instructions:
Create a movement timeline that shows major movement learning milestones in your life. You might start with things like learning to crawl or walk, learning to ride a bike, learning to swim…and work through to today. Be as thorough and accurate as you can.
Teachers may complement the instructions with a graphic of a fictional student’s timeline. Students can complete their timelines on paper or digitally.
To encourage students to think about why their movement timeline looks like it does, students should select several movement milestones from the timeline and describe the circumstances in which the milestones were reached. For example, students should tell where movement milestones occurred, who was influential, and what it felt like at the time. Again, teachers can decide whether students should write about the circumstances of each milestone or simply discuss with peers.
Activity two: Choosing movements to practise
In Activity two, students should: (1) select movements that they would like to practise; (2) provide a rationale for choosing those particular movements; and (3) estimate the changes they expect to see during practising. Examples of movements that students have selected in the past are walking on one’s hands, an olly on a skateboard, and various forms of juggling. Selection should be done in negotiation with the teacher. We suggest that students submit their choices to their teacher and the teacher can approve selections or offer alternatives. The timeline task from Activity one may help students to describe their rationales.
Estimating changes involves negotiating what the student should be practising towards and what improvements might look like for the student. A student that wants to juggle, for example, may need to consider the kinds of objects with which s/he wants to juggle, the type of juggling s/he will employ, and the length of time s/he wishes to juggle. Expected changes are related to the practising period, and teachers will need to ensure that students have realistic expectations.
Activity three: Locating sources
Students locate various instructional and inspirational sources that will help them to develop their movement capabilities. Traditional sources such as books can be used but in our experience, online videos and websites like www.wikihow.com will provide students with immediate access to a range of sources. Regardless of source type, teachers should encourage students to share information with each other. In this respect, teachers may want to facilitate (online) group work during Activity three. Students can be grouped according to their selected movements. Teachers may then ask groups to identify a specific number of instructional/inspirational sources, certain kinds of sources, and/or ask students to comment on the sources that they find.
An expected learning outcome of Activity three is that students will recognise that some members of movement cultures have more extensive capability than they do themselves, as a result of practising. For instance, those individuals who can perform complex karate kata or parkour movements can do so because they have practised. While it is not necessary to rate themselves against other movement culture members, it is useful for students to recognise that they can learn from members with more ‘excellent’ movement capabilities.
Activity four: Practising
Using sources from Activity three, students begin practising. Students can decide on the kinds of tasks they will engage with, the duration and intensity of the practising spells, the types of equipment they will use, and when to use instructional and inspirational sources for help. Of course, these decisions will depend largely on the kind of movement that is selected. A student who is practising to walk on their hands is unlikely to practise for the same duration as a student attempting to juggle, for example.
Students should record parts of their learning experiences in video and textual format as part of Activity four. Recording should focus on practising at various stages of the module. The teacher should decide approximately how long the clips should be. Students should select the movement sequences that they want to have filmed and have the possibility to film as many sequences as they want before selecting one(s) to share (see Activity five). Textual material should be kept in a reflective diary in which students complete prompting sentences such as ‘I learned … ’ and ‘I am noticing differences such as … ’. Diaries can contribute to a picture of how the learner changes throughout the module.
Activity five: Presenting practising journeys
At the end of the practising module, students should use the video and textual records kept during Activity four to produce a short presentation of their learning journeys. These presentations will focus on meaningful moments. We recommend using video with subtitles or student voice over as a way of representing learning.
Students can present their practising journeys to the class or groups within the class. The presentations need not have a performance orientation. Akin to showing time-lapse photos, the purpose is for students to share aspects of change in movement capability rather than demonstrate what they can do. Presentations can prompt further discussion and reflection. Students might reflect on similarities and differences between particular capabilities, various aspects of their bodily experiences, or common challenges experienced during their learning journeys.
We hope that these suggestions for teaching with a focus on practising can be a useful way to meet some of the challenges of remote teaching in PE. Please see the references below if you are interested in a more detailed account of the practising model and ways of working with it. We want to stress that the activities above illustrate ways of working with practising and are intended to stimulate pedagogical reflections. We don’t consider them a fixed system to implement.
We also want to stress that we don’t see practising as a solitary activity. Relational and social aspects are essential for practising. Still, it is a form of activity you can actually engage with in meaningful ways without direct contact with others. Students can choose a movement project that they can work with from home or outdoors in the local environment. To compensate for the lack of direct contact, they can be in touch virtually through, for instance, FaceTime or Zoom on mobile devices. They can also share videos, photos, and short messages that can mutually inspire ways of practising.
As the pandemic is – hopefully – coming to an end, the demands for remote teaching may soon be over, at least for now. We anticipate that PE teachers will bring experiences from the past year into ordinary school days in constructive ways. As part of that process, the practising model can be a valuable addition to the teachers’ pedagogical repertoires. Indeed, the practising model was intended to provide students with educationally relevant learning opportunities under so-called ’normal’ circumstances. Until those days return, we hope that a focus on practising can be a good way to engage students in meaningful activities at home.
Copyright @ Kenneth Aggerholm, Dean Barker,
Håkan Larsson & Øyvind Førland Standal 2021